As I reflect on the incident that happened at the Philadelphia Starbucks just a few days ago, and the subsequent reactions, I continue to be uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. I am a queer, white, cis-male; I am from an educated middle-class family and I hold a graduate degree. I am one of the most privileged people in the United States, and that privilege allows me to say “I’m uncomfortable” over and over again rather than “I’m afraid” or “I’m unsafe,” I feel that’s an important point to make, here. I am uncomfortable because I continue to have to examine how I have been complicit in systems of white supremacy. The Starbucks incident again has me examining my actions (conscious and ingrained). I have never had to fear the police, that doesn’t mean I am always comfortable around officers or scared in their presence, but it does mean I have never had to think “will I go home alive after this interaction?”. That is why I am uncomfortable.
This isn’t the type of post where I give all of the answers or any answers at all, really. This is simply a call for my white colleagues, friends, peers, and communities to continue to be uncomfortable and to use that discomfort as your call to action. It is not enough for me to be educated. It is not enough for me to have read some really great research by scholars of color. Guess what? It’s not enough for you either
The Starbucks event is not an isolated incident, it is a symptom of something much larger, more systemic and systematic, but because it didn’t result in death, because a white woman recorded the incident, because a few (not even most) white people in attendance questioned the police, and because the two black men were meeting to discuss real estate opportunities with a white colleague it has become palatable for the (white) masses. It is an easy catalyst for white people (like me) to cry “Injustice” but for people of color this is a day in the life. Let this be your catalyst. We (white people) all have to start somewhere, but don’t let this just be your start. Use this as your assignment to do more. Research the murders of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and the countless other people of color murdered by police in our country. Look at the murders of trans people (specifically transwomen) of color. Dig deep in to our history of segregation, white supremacy, racism, colonialism, gentrification, and oppression. Read about racism. Read about history. Listen to people of color. Hear what is being said. Work to understand the fears of the marginalized around us. Take action in your work and communities. Protest. Be active in your communities and work places. Interrupt systems of oppression, hell, just interrupt the cisgender, white guy in your meeting so your colleagues of color have a louder voice in the conversation. Start small, but start!
We all recognize our role in racism at different points in our lives. Obviously, we want that recognition to be earlier, but if the Starbucks incident was your moment take it and run with it. Take it as far as you can and never look back. One thing, though, white people, learn to follow. We have, for too long, failed to listen to people of color and the most marginalized in our communities because we have always been “the leader.” Remember when I said to listen to people of color? That’s not just to inform you, it is also for you understand the needs of people of color and following through on those needs by using your privilege to amplify the voices. I am not the leader in this moment, and neither are you.
I’m uncomfortable. I hope for the sake of my friends of color I am never again comfortable. I will continue to question my complicity. I will continue to recognize my role in white supremacy earlier every day and dismantle it. I will teach my students that using their white privilege to help people of color and other marginalized identities is more important than their comfort, because for many racism is a life and death scenario.
I hope you are uncomfortable too.
Danny Foster (He/Him/His) is a Residence Director and Orientation Coordinator at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX where he lives with his partner, Dylan. Danny is passionate about Social Justice education and restorative justice in student conduct and hopes to one day be a Director for a Student Conduct Office.
Danny can be reached at email@example.com or @FosterDJ2 on Twitter.